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tv   Dateline NBC  NBC  May 18, 2012 10:00pm-11:00pm EDT

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she was a person out of a '40 movie. >> with a life full of mystery to match. >> she was a stunner physically. she was able to say "jump" and the men would say "how high". >> married to a wealthy lawyer. >> he always said, she had has this hold over me. >> but there was someone she seemed even closer to. >> they bought matching underwear together. >> they shared everything. >> she's living at her house, sleeping together. >> did they also share a deadly secret? >> it was a love triangle, and one of them had to go. >> but was it her idea?
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>> but god it seemed like a good idea at the time. oh, god. >> or hers? and who would take the fall for "evil"? welcome to "dateline," everyone. i'm left hster holt. any parent will tell you two kids can get into trouble than they can alone. that seems to relate to adults as well. we may be strong enough by ourselves but too weak to resist a friend. the question tonight is, did two friends together give in to the temptation to commit murder? here's keith morrison. >> reporter: it was september 11, 2001. just about everybody knows where
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they were that awful day. like the glamorous trio that was traveling north it through y yosemi yosemite's national park. even as the rest of the nation's attention was focused on new york city, they were intent on their own urgent needs, their desires, their fears, their deadly love triangle. so they probably didn't appreciate the passing wonders, the astonishing cliffs, the waterfalls, the giant sa kwoi was any more than the one in the back seat through fading eyes, saw anything at all. here is one of them. his name was larry mcnabb ne, a tall, handsome man, a well-known and respected attorney from nevada, a personal injury specialist, made buckets of money, loved the big life, loved being in control. >> there was never a hair out of place. there wasn't dust on his it desk.
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his had pen was always in the same spot. >> reporter: larry's daughter davia was crazy about him. in all of his had type-had a personality, his joy of life, his courtroom presence -- >> i loved to go to the courtroom and watch my dad. it was mesmerizing to me. >> he'd take command of the place. >> completely confident. not an ounce of shyness. he commanded the courtroom. >> i've been a trial lawyer for over 20 years. >> reporter: a good attorney and perhaps as important very good at the business of lieu. larry's longtime friend fred atchison. >> he could open 50 files a month in personal injury litigation, which made him a rich man. >> reporter: but nobody's perfect, of course. and, for all of larry's unquestioned talents, the man carried afternoon wiaround with him a wrath of corresponding
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demons. >> i know he had a difficult childhood and that a lot of your personality is shaped when wh you're a child. >> reporter: and, as an adult, larry struggled with alcohol and women. he married and divorced several times. >> it was like a void he was trying to fill, and he never could fill it. >> reporter: in fact, from time to time larry had got on benders and just vanished weeks at a time. everyone would worry and wonder and, sure enough, he'd show up again. >> i had a t-shirt made up once, yellow where black letters saying, where is larry mcnabney. >> reporter: but then larry, well into his 40s, seemed to get his act together for real. he set up a new office in las vegas, everything clicked. possibly for an attractive reasonable, as tavia discovered. >> i went by the office one day, and he said, i have someone i want you to meet.
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he said, this is elisa. >> reporter: elisa, 17 years younger than larry, and he was in love. >> and he said, she's just fun and vivacious and she's young, and it's just -- we have a good time. >> reporter: tavia didn't stand in the way. she wanted her dad to be happy. >> you welcome the new person in. it's my dad so i didn't want anything that would inhibit me from spending time with him. >> and he really cared for this woman. >> he did. >> reporter: larry and elisa thrived, both personally and professionally. they got married. elisa became his office manager. they opened up a firm in sacramento, california, another big success. so they hired a young, attractive college student named sarah dutra, the outgoing daughter of deeply religious parents, who soon became a
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friend as well as a sort of personal and office assistant. and, together, elisa and larry enjoyed the high life. >> she was in to the same things that larry loved and style. and they went out and bought viper cars together. >> reporter: they also shared larry's newest passion, quarter horses. >> larry would show horses and show himself, which fit in with larry looking good and feeling good. >> reporter: larry could do more of what he liked while young sarah pitched in to run the business end of larry's law practice. just about perfect. though larry's friend fred was a bit of a stick in the mud about it. >> the fact she took control of his had business allowed him to engage in drinking and partying. >> which is not really what larry needed. >> no. he didn't need that. because his had appetites would
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run amuck. >> reporter: so when wit, after nearly seven years of marriage, larry suddenly dropped out of sight, close friends weren't extremely alarmed at first. after all, he had gone on drunken benders before. but as days stretched into weeks, it seemed different, extremely odd. ginger miller started working at the office in september 2001 at the office, just about the time larry went missing. elisa kept the business going in his absence but couldn't seem to settle on what the staff should tell people about larry. >> i was told to tell his kids and people in his family different things. i was told he was golfing or skiing, some place they probably couldn't get ahold of him. >> it was all obvious bs. >> yeah. then if it was a client i'd have to say that he was working on a deposition, he was with another client, he had to fly out. >> reporter: larry's kids didn't know what to think. >> i said to my brother, this doesn't sound right.
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why do the stories keep changing? >> reporter: october arrived. still no larry. thkdz thanksgiving. in december, he was always with family on his had birthday. but still no sign of larry mcnam mcnabney. >> i didn't get a good feeling, and what i worried about was, did something go wrong and dad was scared and he took off? >> reporter: had larry offended the wrong person? tavia had a friend in law enforcement who told her -- >> you have to look at it two ways. either if he's in hiding he's not going to be happy you found him because, obviously, he's hiding for a reason. or something's happened to him had. >> reporter: meanwhile, back at the office, ginger was hearing things, worrisome things, until she just couldn't keep it in anymore. >> i went to the sheriff's department. i wasn't sure what to do so i just asked for a piece of paper and i slid it under the window.
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>> reporter: detectives got her had note and thus figured they would have a chat with elisa mcnabney. but, by the time they went looking for her, just like larry, she was gone. >> coming up -- filling in the missing pieces about the mysterious and now missing elisa. >> she was a person out of a 40s film. she was a stunner physically, but more importantly she had a control over men that just amazed me.
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by the dawn of 2002, while the rest of us were getting used to a post-9/11 new normal, it seemed pretty clear that something very abnormal must have happened to that successful personal injury attorney larry mcnabney. nobody had seen him in five months. he'd never been on a bender for this long. now his wife elisa was missing too. by this time ginger had dropped off her note at the sheriff's office and detectives were poking around in the law office, talking to employees like sarah dutra, the attractive 21-year-old art student from sacramento state who worked at the mcnabney law firm as an office secretary. she brought her little dog ralph with her to the sheriff's office. sarah told the detectives that she and elisa had become close friends and so she, sarah, certainly noticed how erratic elisa became after larry went miss hadding. >> things were starting to not
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seem right. like, you know, elisa wouldn't come to work all the time there, you know? >> reporter: sarah confirmed what ginger miller said, that elisa kept changing her explanations for larry's whereabouts. she said she saw elisa signing larry's name on checks and day-to-day business transactions. >> i figured she's keeping his business going for him. you know, so he can go play or do whatever he's doing. >> reporter: in early january 2002, said sarah, elisa planned a trip to arizona to attend a horse show. and, in the absence of larry, invited sarah to go along. >> i was going to fly down the next day and then she told me, you know, your ticket's paid for, and all that. >> reporter: but when sarah got to the airport, the ticket was not paid for. >> so then you call her cell phone number and what did you get? >> nothing.
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it was, this number is no longer in use. >> reporter: and that was that, said sarah. she hadn't heard from elisa since. >> i actually called ginger and i said, ginger, you know, i'm going to look for a it new job. i don't know about you, but elisa's gone. >> reporter: then joaquin county prosecutor thomas testa had handled a number of missing persons cases so when with he heard about the case of larry and elisa mcnabney, he gravitated toward it. >> this is an attorney with a case load who disappeared. this isn't a homeless person who you think took a greyhound and went to nevada. >> reporter: testa began by taking a hard look at elisa. >> she was a person out of a '40s film nor movie. she was a stunner physically, but she had a control over men that just amazed me. she was able to say "jump" and the men would say "how high".
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>> reporter: it certainly seemed true to larry, so said his old friend fred atchison. >> she was controlling him so the xenlt that she was keeping him away from his family and his former friends. >> did that include the relationship you had with him? >> no question about it. >> you found yourself shut out. >> yeah. >> reporter: so did larry's daughter tavia. >> elisa completely cut me out of the picture, and i was devastated. >> reporter: but why? why was elisa keeping larry away from his family and friends? had what did she have to hide? >> he called me up once on the phone and said, fred, i don't know who she is. you know, i thought he meant, well, we don't ever really know who our spouses are deep down. he said, no, i don't even know if this is who she is, if her name is what she says it is or anything. >> reporter: by then, said fred, larry had discovered ample reason to stop trusting elisa. >> he couldn't keep had his wallet in his pants. >> he told you that?
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>> yeah. she would steal money in his wallet. he had to hide his wallet in his own house. >> reporter: turned out she was also stealing from the law firm. >> she had ripped him off. >> for how much? any idea? >> over $100,000. >> reporter: larry told fred all about his troubles with elisa, and, yet, he kept her around. not like he hadn't divorced women around, but not this one. tavia didn't get it. >> i mean, he always said, she has this hold over me, and i never understood what that meant. >> reporter: and larry's comment to fred about not knowing his wife, well, his suspicions turned out to be true. a little research told detectives that the real woman behind the name elisa mcnabney had a considerable criminal rap are sheet including stolen property, credit card fraud, grand theft. >> she really had a way of ingratiating herself with p mme and using her female charm --
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and she was very, very good at it. she was a true and true con artist. >> reporter: so was elisa just conning larry? surely, thought fred, she wouldn't have done away with him, would she? >> it wouldn't make any sense, even for a dedicated pole cat, to do anything like that because he was the goose that laid the golden egg. it wouldn't make any sense whatsoever. >> reporter: it was a farm worker twwork worker who noticed a flock of vul chers or buzzards drifting above one of these grape fields. saw something sticking out of the ground. and soon a missing persons case turned into something much, much worse and considerably more bizarre.
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>> announcer: it was february 2002. a remote vineyard in the northern california central valley, a farm worker checking the outer reaches of a giant field of grape couldn't help but see the big birds wheeling round and round. something out there. >> vultures were with circling. he spotted the vultures so he went out to see what they were circling. >> reporter: investigator javier ramos and lieutenant rocket bookwalleder worked with the san
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joaquin county sheriff's office at the time. they were among the first on the scene. >> must be some dead animal. >> that's what he said, what he figured he would find. just some dead animal out there. >> reporter: but it wasn't a dead animal. the leg that was sticking out of the ground was decidedly human. and soon larry's daughter tavia heard the news. >> i got a call from the sheriff's department. i felt myself get really hot and nauseous, and she said that the body they found, the dental records -- it was him. and i remember -- i never swear, and i yelled out this cuss word and i slammed down the phone and i just started shaking. it was a moment in time that i've never felt such anguish. >> it's still raw even now. >> it is because i thought -- i don't know. i thought -- i guess i was
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hoping he was in hiding. >> very fortunate that the body was discovered and now we can move on and investigate it as a homicide. >> reporter: homicide? ah, yes. ample prove now, five months after he had vanished. larry had been murdered and left to rot out here in the middle of nowhere. >> there weren't any stab wounds or any bullet holes. >> reporter: there were no obvious signs of larry's cause of death so they looked further and found something very unusual. >> the medical examiner was able to find out that the cause of death was poisoning with a horse tranquilizer. >> horse tranquilizer. >> yes. >> reporter: now, that was strange. but get this -- >> he had been dead for an extended period of time, however, the body had not decomposed consistent with the time frame we were looking at. >> meaning?
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>> meaning that it was preserved, kept cold. >> one of the first things i thought is, where with would the person who killed larry, where would they have abc to like a walk with-in refrigerator, large enough to hold a human body? >> reporter: detectives wanted answers and so did larry's daughter tavia who sometimes believed she could hear her father in her sleep. >> when i would go to sleep at night, i would wake up and i would hear him calling for me, to help him. and i didn't know what to do and i didn't understand what was going on. >> sometimes people get a sense of knowing either what or who was responsible. did you? >> i knew elisa had done something. >> reporter: larry's much younger wife elisa. she vanished a few months after he did, and, now that larry was dead, she was the prime suspect in his murder. sheriff's deputies and the fbi finally tracked her down in march 2002 in florida.
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>> she cut her hair short and changed her name. >> reporter: elisa was now going by the name of shine ivaroni, working as a paralegal at a florida law firm. >> elisa was a very smart person. she had i believe a 140 iq. >> she could talk anybody into anything. >> right. >> but now she was finally exposed for the con artist she was and was in custody, elisa decided to tell her story, starting, at long last, with her legal name. >> my whole name is laren. my middle name is renee. my maiden name was sims. >> and elisa, where's that coming from? a change or just wanted a different name? >> no. i left florida. i know, i mean, i was a fugitive from florida. >> reporter: alegion sa or laren
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was from massachusetts and was a mother of two. she was wanted in florida for violating probation on a burglary and theft charge and had been on the run for nine years, she said. she eventually settled in las vegas where she met larry and, by this time, had changed her name to elisa. she told the police that she was at the horse show in arizona when she found out police wanted to talk to her about larry. and so she took off in her jaguar, drove from state state. >> where were you headed at this point? >> i didn't -- just away. i didn't know where. >> reporter: so with the preliminaries out of the way, now came the big question -- what happened to larry mcnabney? elisa, without hesitation and without even being asked, spilled the beans. >> and di kill my husband? yes, i killed my husband. >> reporter: there it was. no apology, no evasion. she simply confessed to killing
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her husband, larry mcnabnecnabn. but -- and this was a but with a capital "b" -- that wasn't the whole story. it n not even close. coming up -- the rest of the story. did elisa have help? >> and i freaked out. >> she was going to throw him in alive. >> yeah. and i was freaking out. >> reporter: "she"? who was she? time for evan and jerry. and, boy... oh, my... [ male announcer ] ...are they enjoying it. i might get another one. with some more sauce. [ male announcer ] but their quick bite to eat... could potentially turn into a long night of the shakes. thankfully, evan's corolla has available entune with bing to help them find another restaurant. another reason you can always count on corolla. from toyota.
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. >> reporter: there is a purity to confession, a real cleansing of the soul. and now, after months on will lam, elisa mcnabney, aka laren
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sims, was letting go, not holding back. yes, she killed her husband of nearly seven years, but, she said, it wasn't her idea. i said, i don't know what i'm going to do. and she said, we have to kill him. i said, i can't kill him. >> reporter: "she" said? who was this other woman who pushed elisa to commit murder? turned out detectives had already talked with her. remember sarah dutra, the young secretary elisa's frengd who came in with her little dog and had been so helpful to detectives after larry and elisa disappeared? now elisa was saying that killing larry was sarah's idea. >> i never would have thought that up on my own. >> reporter: elisa told the story this way. larry was a heavy drinker and drug user. he was abusive, she claimed, and she feared for her life. one day she said she confided in her young friend sarah, and sarah said there was just one thing to do -- kill larry mcnabney.
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now in this three-hour-long interview, elisa went into detail after gruesome it detail how she and sarah did it. elisa and larry were at a horse show in los angeles, she said, and sarah flew down to meet them, or, rather, to meet elisa since larry didn't like sarah. >> and what did you decide to do with him? >> we said, if we kill him, nobody's going to miss him. >> were you going to do it like that day or some other time in the future? when were you guys planning on doing it? >> right then. >> right then and there? >> yeah. >> reporter: that was september 9, 2001. according to elisa, larry had already passed out, after drinking some horse tranquilizer on his own for fun. so elisa, to just give him more, and no one would ever find out. >> oh, god, it seemed like a good idea at the time. but, oh, my god, it's so
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horrible to think of taking somebody's life. >> reporter: while larry slept, said elisa, she and sarah squirted drops of horse tranquilizer into his mouth. but larry didn't die. instead, the next day on september 10th, larry got up, showed his horse, and then went right back to bed. >> next morning he's, like, lying there. and i thought he was dead. so i wake sarah up and i say, i think he's dead. and she pushes him and she said, no, he's not dead. >> reporter: but he was so heavily drugged he couldn't walk. >> so we went down the street and rented a wheelchair and i got him it dressed and put him in the wheelchair. and we rolled him out to our truck. and put him in the back seat of the druck, and we drove. >> reporter: this, by the way, was september 11, 2001. everyone else in the known world preoccupied elsewhere.
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well, elisa and sarah drove north through california with larry slowly dying in the back seat of the truck. >> we stopped in yosemite, somewhere in yosemite, and sarah got out and started digging a hole. and he was alive, okay? and i freaked out. >> she was going to throw him in the hole alive. >> yes. and i was freaking oumt. i said, we can't put him in in when he's alive. we can't do that. >> reporter: so, she said, they drove on. they thought larry would die in the car. but he didn't. so, when they finally made it back it to larry and elisa's home near sacramento, larry was slipping in and out of consciousness, still alive. >> and then when 6:00 in the morning rolls around, the sun starts coming up, sarah sleeps late, you know, and so i immediately go up there. and he was dead.
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>> reporter: that was the morning of september 12. >> and sarah satisfies, well, we can't leave him lying here. so, you know, we take the sheet that he was lying on and we wrapped it around him and took duct tape and wrapped it around him. and he was like in a crouch position. and then in my garage he had this wine refrigerator, you know, like a regular refrigerator, but he ordinarily kept wine in it. so we took the wine out of it and we took the racks out of it and put him in it. >> reporter: stuck larry's body in the refrigerator while they decided what to do with it. >> we talked about burying him in the backyard. we talked about burying him over at my trainer's. we talked about taking him in the desert and burning the body. >> reporter: but they couldn't quite decide and so they kept larry's body in the refrigerator for three months, and then they
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decided to take it to las vegas, find someplace there to bury it. >> how much does he weigh? >> he weighed about -- a lot. >> i'm having a hard time seeing you two picking up this big guy. >> we laid the trailer tire down in front of the refrigerator, opened the door and laid the trailer tire down, slide him out, put him on the trailer tire and then back the jag up really close to the trailer tire and then it was only like that much difference so then we just pushed. >> off the tire into the trunk? >> exactly. and he was like shaped like this, you know. so then we put him in the trunk and he was like this. and we closed the trunk and we went to las vegas. >> reporter: en route to las vegas with their two dogs in the back seat, larry in the trunk, along with two shovels. once there, sarah hung out at a hotel with the dogs. elisa went out looking for a
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burial place for larry. but, when she started digging, she said the ground was too hard. >> and so i went back to the hotel and told her, i can't do it. and then all this time he's in the trunk and the valet's parking us and it's not good, you know? >> reporter: so elisa said they drove back to wicalifornia and e next morning at 4:00, she drove out to a vineyard, dug a hole and buried him. >> how deep a hole did you dig? >> not deep enough, obviously. >> reporter: that was elisa's story. and just a few hours after she finished telling it california detectives hauled in sarah dutra, the alleged driver of the whole plot, and her story? well, it was a little different. >> coming up -- is sarah dutra a cold-blooded killer or an innocent who was
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. i'm here tonight to encourage you to let the chips fall where the chips fall. do not protect elisa anymore. don't protect yourself either. just tell the truth. >> but is she, like, incriminating me somehow? >> reporter: sarah dutra appeared confused. no little dog to keep her company now. her close friend elisa mcnabney had confessed to murdering her husband larry, and claimed that sarah, just 21 years old at the time, not only helped with the murder but was actually the driving force behind it. >> what do you think elisa's doing right about now?
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>> she's lying about what really happened. >> are you a cold-blooded killer? or are you -- >> god, no. >> or are you somebody who got caught up in stuff and made some mistakes. >> reporter: they confronted her with the confession. >> we planned to overdose larry with horse tranquilizer. >> no. i'm not denying. i mean, that conversation could have happened but i never thought that she would have carried it out and taken me along with her, unknowingly. she's evil and she's trying to do this to pull me down with her. because she's been jealous of me. i know she has. >> explain that to me, then. why is she doing this? make me believe it, sarah. >> because she's an evil person. anyone who could kill their husband's evil. >> reporter: sarah dutra broke down and told detectives her side of the story. and, in this version, it was
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elisa, not sarah, who was the cold-ofblooded killer. it was elisa who dosed larry with horse tranquilizer. elisa ordered sarah to bury him in yosemite, even before he was dead. >> she said, get out and grab the shovel and check the ground. and i said, god, no. i was -- i want you to know that i was so afraid to not do what she wanted me to. >> reporter: elisa, who was eerily calm when larry finally did expire. >> and he was laying there on the ground and i said, what is he laying on the ground for? you know, why is he not laying in bed? she said, he's dead. and i thought, what? oh, my god. he's dead? what do you mean he's dead? >> reporter: that was the morning of september twefth, after the long and harrowing drive home from the horse show in los angeles, said sarah. and, through her tears, she told
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the detectives how larry's body ended up in the refrigerator. >> and so she put him in a sheet. oh, my god. i -- i've never seen anything like this, okay? and she said, okay, grab the sheet. and then we carried him downstairs and i i'm, like, what are you doing? we have to call the police. this is not right. she said, we are not calling the police. if you call the police, you'll be so sorry you did. >> reporter: this was the heart of sarah's version. she went along with the whole awful, crazy thing for one reason, she said. she was deathly afraid of elisa. >> god, i didn't want to end up like him. >> reporter: was it possible, an innocent young woman in the thrall of a con artist and killer? sarah dutra seemed so frightened, so emotional. and, yet, thought the detective -- >> i felt a little bit over the
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top. >> she was a little over the top. >> yeah. [ inaudible ] >> you mean she was acting, putting on? >> i believe so. >> after more than nine hours of questioning, sarah dutra was arrested and charged with larry's murder. it was a classic crime story. two killers, mutual finger pointing, and prosecutors knew they could use each woman's testimony against the other, an easy checkmate. that is, until elisa took herself off the board. on march 30th, 13 days after her arrest, a jailer found her hanging by the neck in her cell. a suicide. >> a million questions for elisa, and now that door has been slammed shut. >> reporter: and now sarah, left holding the bag, would face
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murder charges alone. coming up -- the prosecutor had to prove that sarah was equally responsible for larry mcnabney's death, but, with elisa gone, whose story would the jury believe? >> when you try only one defendant, it's very easy, as it was for sarah dutra, to point the finger at the one who's not there. and coming up tuesday on "dateline," our 20th anniversary special. and look who's at the party. >> your response was remarkable. and i never forget it. >> jane pauley with michael j. fox. tom brokaw with a survivor's story that went hollywood. >> you were reborn. >> matt lawyer with a twist of fate that shook two families. our first gotcha moments. >> there's something you need to know. >> don't touch me. >> how the [ bleep ] -- plus, carrie underwood,
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. >> reporter: it was the winter with of 2003, more than a year since larry mcnabney was poisoned with horse tranquilizer. his admitted killer, elisa mcnabney, his wife, chose her own destiny. and her alleged accomplice, sarah dutra, alone, faced the possibility of spending the rest of her life behind bars. you attended the trial every day. >> yes. 11 1/2 weeks. >> why? why? >> our d.a. had talked to us about the importance of our family being represented, that my dad not being forgotten. >> reporter: tavia believed her father died at the hands of both
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elisa and sarah, but, while sarah it admitted to being there when larry die 0ed and in the day as and months that followed she adamantly claimed she never went to police because she was so afraid of elisa and of ending up just like larry. a theory that even prosecutor thomas testa found, well, believable. >> when i first got this case, people in my office will tell you that's exactly what i was saying walking up and down the hall. >> poor sarah! >> poor sarah. she's just an aider and abetter. but as i got deeper in the case, i totally turned around. i started with that mindset. >> testa reviewed the evidence and became convinced that sarah dutra was, in fact, the woman in charge. >> sarah did not like larry. she always accused him of being full of himself, talking about himself all the time, self-centered. she didn't like him. so larry didn't want sarah around. sarah did not like larry.
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>> you know, this sounds to me like two people who both love lee lisa and want the other out of the way. >> that's it. that's exactly it. it was a love triangle, and one of them had to go. >> reporter: sarah, said prosecutor testa, was enjoying a very fancy life with elisa, and larry was simply in the way. if your theory is right, these are two kind of good-time girls who have this great relationship and living off the proceeds of larry, why get rid of him? they had no motive. >> larry was elisa's golden goose, but elisa was sarah's golden goose, and sarah was about to be cut out of this whole triangle. larry had just told her two days before he was killed, you know, that he wanted her gone, he wanted her fired. >> reporter: so, said testa, it was sarah who had the motive to kill larry. sarah's lawyer, of course, saw it differently. >> it seems like the classic
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instance of, you know, evil sort of wrapping around a sweet young little baby. >> reporter: at the trial, defense attorney kevin climo portrayed elisa as a black widow, sophisticated con artist who wanted her husband dead and sarah was her innocent and terrified pawn. >> it was the most horrible thing i've never -- not because i wanted to. not because i wanted to. i want you to know that. >> reporter: really? now prosecutor testa introduced ginger miller. remember her, the other secretary who worked alongside sarah and elisa? she said, in the days and weeks after larry vanished, elisa and sarah seemed to feel anything but remorse. >> they're laughing together. they're shopping together. they're eating together. they're sleeping in the same bed together. she's living at her house. >> so they were not really working, were they? >> they were. they would get maybe two hours of work done a day.
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>> what did they do the rest of the time, just party? >> shop, hang out, sleep late, go flirt with boys. >> reporter: all the while spending the firm's money, larry's money. a lot of money. >> elisa got a red jaguar, sarah got a red bmw. >> reporter: such close friends. or maybe more than friends. >> they bought matching underwear together. >> come on. >> my first week, they were, like, look what we bought, they were wearing matching underwear. they were best friends. >> reporter: they were blowing through money so it fast they fell behind on rept payments for the law afs office, got evicted. so they moved the office into elisa and larry's home, which, according to ginger, now seemed more like elisa and sarah's home. >> up in the rooms they had no clothes of larry's. the closet was cleaned out. in the bathroom, hers and sarah's sinks, instead of his and hers.
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>> like they knew he wasn't coming back. >> yeah. they were pretty much living in the house. >> reporter: well, not quite. because all this time, remember, larry's body was still in the garage, still in the refrigerator. and, as for the idea that sarah was an innocent child, elisa's puppet, that was nonsense, said ginger. >> everybody knows that she wasn't terrified of her. sarah had as much say as elisa had in the whole situation. >> reporter: but at her trial, sarah, the daughter of those devout christians, sat quietly at the defense table, a wide-eyed innocent. elisa wasn't around to be cross-examined so her videotaped confession didn't get played for the jury. and, with no dna, no prints, no trace evidence, no living eyewitnesss, the case against sarah was entirely circumstantial. >> the first-it degree murder. >> first-degree murder, yeah. >> but would the jury see it the way he did?
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after four it days of deliberations, the jury found sarah dutra guilty of voluntary manslaughter and accessory to murder, not first-degree murder. >> had she not been a young, attractive, tall blonde whose parents were clutching bibles, crying in the first row, one wonders if the verdict would have been the same. >> reporter: sarah dutra was sentenced to 11 years, served 8, and, in the summer of 2011, at age 31, she was released. >> it's painful to know that such little time was given for such a horrific crime and one that seemed so premeditated to me and so thought out and so callous to the end. >> sarah dutra is on parole for three years, and she has not responded to our irnnterview request. and tavia says she's forgiven sarah.
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as much for her own sake as anything. >> will i ever forget what she's done? never. but i don't want to have my whole life be their cruelty and the things they chose to do to him. i'd rather remember the loving times we had together. and they're not going to take that away from me. that's all for this edition of "dateline" friday. we'll see you again this tuesday for a special edition of "dateline," as we celebrate 20 years on the air. and i'll see you tomorrow morning on "today." i'm lester holt. for all of us at nbc news, good